For a few years I gilded almost 30% of the harps made in the world.
I know. That’s a pretty lofty statement to make but it’s true. And that’s gilded not gelded. If you geld a harp you can’t hit any low notes.
From the late-mid-70s to the near-mid-80s I worked at the Lyon & Healy Harp Company in Chicago. I was hired as an apprentice harp gilder and by the time I left their employment I wore the title of Master Harp Gilder. All who approached my presence were required to bow. No one ever did.
So much for requirements.
FYI, gilding is the ancient art of applying gold leaf. In fact, we used the same method as the ancient Egyptians. If it ain’t broke…
For seven years I applied gessos and various clays and used different types of sandpaper and soft cloths to massage and prepare hand-crafted wooden harp pieces to have water heated with rabbit glue applied which readied them to be adorned with razor-thin sheets of 24 karat gold leaf, which would then ultimately be burnished with an agate polishing tool to produce a golden mirror-like finish.
That’s the art of gilding condensed to one long sentence.
The back story of how I got into gilding is a simple one. I knew a couple of guys who worked there.
Mark Twain wrote about the gilded age…
One was an apprentice harp maker and the other came to visit him at work one day and because he could speak English was hired as head of the Action Department (The “Action” is what all the complicated hardware that connects the pedals to the strings is called). These two told out-of-work-me that gilding looked interesting so I came in to interview. Because I was an artistic type and I could speak English, I was hired.
Note the importance placed on the ability to speak English. Most of the craftsmen working in this place were Polish. Polish is the language that they spoke and understood. I suspect they (at least some of them) understood more English than they let on but that’s the way it was. Half the shop was older Polish guys and the other half was hippies from the ‘60s who were now in their mid to late twenties. A motley crew were we and I’m pleased to say that I made some great friendships there and many still carry on to this day.
My gilding mentor was a Polish gent in his 50s named Jan Szlaga. The only verbal instruction he gave me in English was “Too much” and “Not too much”. I basically learned by watching what he did and trying to emulate it. He was a masterful gilder. The finished product in his hands was beautiful beyond belief. Another amazing thing about him was that he could smoke a cigarette without taking it out of his mouth until the ash was so long it looked like it would crumble onto the piece he was gilding at any second. But it never did.
He knew when to kiss his ash goodbye.
And Harpo played a gilded harp…
There was another gilder. His name was Felix. He was also a master gilder (and, I later learned, a very good painter). He and Jan hated one another. I mean they hated each other. Now, because we gilders needed a controlled environment in which to work, we couldn’t be out on the open floor so we had our own room. There was so much animosity between Jan and Felix that a plywood wall had to be erected between the two of them, dividing the room in half.
When one of them would make a mistake or something went wrong with their gilding and they would say the English equivalent of “Shit” or “Oh, Darn!” the other would chortle gleefully. That would then ensue to some of the most frightening-sounding language I’ve ever heard. They would literally growl horrid sounding words at one another through the plywood barrier. I had no idea what they were saying but the sounds made my hair stand on end.
During the time I toiled at L&H, other apprentice gilders came and went. But, for a while there were only three of us gilding harps. During that time, Lyon & Healy was purportedly producing 90% of the harps made in the world. That is why I can say that I gilded almost 30% of them. (Not all harps were gilded)
There are eight million stories in the Naked City and I have almost that many stories from the harp shop. There was the harp built in 1890 that Harpo Marx learned to play on, there was the “Killer Harp”, there was shop steward Wally who ruled the shop with an iron head, the Algonquin Round Table of the break room, harp makers Big John and Little John and Ernie Larson who made himself a pair of glasses out of wood, the hookers lying in wait after work by the pillars holding up the Lake Street el, the banjo-led Royal Order of the Harp Makers Guild clearing out Marge’s Tavern on Wednesdays …there was Henning Christiansen, fer chrissake!
Oh my, I could go on and on but I’ll not entertain (or bore) you with those tales. After all, silence is golden.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Waiting for to Go…
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A week’s worth of tweets from the great Chairman Matt — @mifarmer
Former board of ed member Penny Pritzker reminded CPS students that good ISAT scores and generational wealth are key predictors of success.
Moody’s has downgraded Chicago Public Schools’ defense of the ISAT exam from BS1 to Unadulterated BS3.
The ISAT opt-out letter I sent to my youngest daughter’s school was aligned with Common Core standards for informational text.
“First they come for our guns and our bibles, then for our standardized tests. But when they come for our tests, it’s only to give us more.”
George Lucas and Mellody Hobson donate $25M to Rahm’s kids’ private school for standardized testing wing. Correction. Art wing.
George Lucas and Mellody Hobson to donate $25 million worth of ISAT test-taking pencils to CPS students.
BREAKING: Teachers at Rahm’s kids’ private school are refusing to give the 2014 ISAT. Correction. The school doesn’t bother with the test.
I got “Because the school’s AYP depends on it.” Which bullsh*t reason for having your kid take the ISAT are you?
Rahm cites violence in Ukraine as basis for his decision to block students at CPS schools in Ukrainian Village from opting out of the ISAT.
Just another brick in the wall…
CPS now says opt-outs will be taken to a newly closed CPS school to watch a video of Tim Cawley’s speech on privatizing janitorial services.
Asked about the growing ISAT opt-out/boycott movement, a dazed Mayor Emanuel muttered, “Rigor, STEM, IB, world-class, rigor.”
You bet ISAT. I sat all day because CPS hasn’t complied with the state high school P.E. requirement for almost 20 years.
City Hall plans to recast the ISAT as a miraculous celebration of one standardized test bubble form that lasted for eight days.
CPS kids who opt out of the ISAT should use that time to read about students who have art classes, music classes and libraries.
If you’re unable to opt out of the ISAT, feel free to pay tribute to Barbara Byrd-Bennett by filling in every bubble with a B.
You know that talk that Lab School parents dread having with their teenagers? Rahm’s having it tonight: “Dad, what’s the ISAT?”
Editor’s Note: Matt’s last post for The Third City was Bishop Rooks Pawns…
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Just three more hours and we’ll be released.
When that clock strikes 4:30 this whole kit and kaboodle of a cross section of the populace of Chicago summoned here to Room 1700 at the Richard J. Daley Center for possible Jury Duty will be free to go. Free to go, that is, after we collect our checks for $17.20 each.
Not bad pay for a day of loitering with intent to perform a civic duty.
Of course, there’s still a chance we’ll get called to serve and then it’s anybody’s guess as to when we’ll leave. I was part of a group that was the first one called this morning. Soon after the video featuring a mustachioed Lester Holt informing us on what to expect regarding servitude on a jury ended, Group #22 (my group) was summoned.
We were taken en masse in an elevator down to the thirteenth floor (not the luckiest of floors in which to go to trial, I would think) to await a polite third-degree before being accepted as a juror. But, before we could even get accustomed to the atmospheric change, we were told the case was settled out of court. So back up to the seventeenth floor we rode. Most like, our number would not be called again, so we’d have to cool our heels until 4:30.
Time moves slowly in a Jury Duty waiting room, slower than a politician making good on a promise. I read an abandoned Sun-Times and then did both crossword puzzles. I began one in the Red Eye but it proved too unchallenging so I quit.
This is taking forever!
I brought with me a book of collected newspaper columns by Ben Hecht that I would dip into now and then. It was a good read but I wasn’t in a 1920s mood so I decided to take a break and do some people watching.
Several people brought laptop computers that they worked on. Some brought books. Several napped. There was a decent selection of magazines made available by the City but most people played or texted on their phones.
There’s a guy at one of the tables reading a book that must contain musical compositions because he rhythmically nods his head and moves his hands as if he is conducting an orchestra. He even holds a Ticonderoga baton. Behind him sits a bearded gent resting his shaved head against the wall as he scrolls through his phone.
Seated down at the end of the row of seats from me is a girl in pink boots. She hasn’t taken her eyes or her hands from her phone since she’s been here. A gray-bearded, flannel-shirted mountain of a man with a blue kerchief tied atop his head sits in front of her and leafs through a magazine, his reading glasses perched daintily upon his nose. A young lady walks over to the vending machine and buys a 20 ounce bottle of orange soda. It gives me a bit of a shiver as I never cared for the acrid taste of that particular brew.
I notice that the vending machine has a pulsating blue light that incessantly and hypnotically blinks off and on. It’s like a siren’s song. I try to resist but like the crew of the brave Ulysses, I ultimately succumb and purchase and devour a bag of M&Ms like the swine I have become.
Justice is blind — boring!
I check the clock on the wall. It has crept to almost 2:00. Still two and half more hours to go.
On the other side of the room is the TV area. The TV is tuned only to Channel 7. I don’t know why. Oprah no longer broadcasts from here. Perhaps because of her, it is the Official City of Chicago Channel? Surprisingly, not as many people as one would think are seated in that area. But, like I said, there’s no more Oprah.
The Mens bathroom is in that area so I stroll over to see a man about a dog. For some reason the audio is piped inside the john and it is set at an almost ear-splitting level. I guess they don’t want any loitering inside the Boys Room.
On the way back I stop to peruse the magazine rack and find a recent New Yorker. I take it with me and settle back into my seat. The kerchief guy is nodding off. Pink boots is still on her phone.
It’s 10 after 2.
Nothing to be done.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Brief Encounter…
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to us are made
you speak and set
my eyes aglaze
I nod and nod
I shift my weight
and say “Yes, but…”
a second late
How you go on
with nare a breath
and beat a subject
“Oh, how enlightening!”
“I did not know!”
“Why, you don’t say!”
(please let me go)
Why would you think
there’s nothing else
that I would rather
then spend this time
I stand, I lean, I sit
and still you are
Why use two sentences
If I were asked
to describe you,
I’d say, with sympathy…
with just a drop
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Fed Up with FedEx…
White Sox and Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to camp in Arizona this week. Other players will follow soon. It will be warm there. We will be jealous.
And we’ll be excited initially because it’s baseball. But later we’ll be aggravated when we realize that almost as bad as no baseball is the prolonged agony of fake baseball.
In the end, spring training is like six weeks of drunken foreplay: we’re looking forward to where things are leading, but it’s hard not to pass out during the run-up.
So let’s talk about something besides things like who is showing up to camp in the best shape of his career.
Like here’s something that happened this offseason that kind of flew under the radar: as part of America’s quest to suck the humanity out of everything, baseball is going to instant replay!
Here’s how it’s going to work: Each manager can request one video replay of a reviewable call (not including balls and strikes). This will involve headset communication from the on-the-field Crew Chief to a facility in New York staffed by umpires called the “Replay Command Center.” This’ll be like any hi-tech command center I’d expect, except with more munchies and Lou Piniella voodoo dolls strewn about.
If the skipper is proven wise and the call is overturned then he gets another replay. But that’s it dammit! Well, maybe not. After the seventh inning, the Crew Chief has the right to review any call (stil not balls and strikes) he’s thinkin’ doesn’t waft right, up to infinity!
Speak up, says Bud….
So get ready fellow baseball enthusiasts, the games that used to last two-and-a-half hours in the 70s, and have crept up to near three hours over the last decade, are now sure to reach durations that would make a Mayan ruin blush.
“I tell you the fans will love it,” said baseball Commissioner and true man-of-the-people Bud Selig, after instant replay was passed unanimously by MLB owners in January. “It’s another in a long list of changes that will make this sport better than it already is.”
Sure Bud. But it’s weird that as the game keeps getting better, the owners keep getting richer. I’m sure it’s just a wacky coincidence.
And it’s probably a coincidence that instant replay will mean a few more commercials, and a little more advertising revenue, during game broadcasts. That would matter only if team owners also owned the television stations. Oh wait, they do! (Together Reinsdorf and Ricketts own 60% of CSN Chicago).
And when baseball games offer more in potential advertising dollars, this is reflected in the mega-deals cut by MLB and its teams with national and local media networks.
I know you’re thinking I’m a paranoid loon, and that MLB owners–the thirty of them together worth more than a small island nation–wouldn’t do all this to make a few extra bucks in TV money. But let’s not forget that we’re dealing with a pretty miserly bunch here.
Just this week MLB owners voted to eliminate pension plans for non-uniformed employees (or the people not making millions playing baseball). Apparently times are tough for the league that earned more than $8 billion in revenue last year, up from $1.4 billion in 1995.
Also this week, some minor league ballplayers filed a lawsuit against MLB (which pays minor league players) seeking damages for “minimum wage and overtime violations, recordkeeping requirements, state wage and hour violations, payday requirements, waiting time penalties, itemized wage statement violations, unfair business practices and “quantum meruit.” I think that last part is Latin for “being stingy assholes.”
It’s warm at Spring Training and I’m jealous…
For MLB ownership, these are not isolated cases of short-changing personnel, but a trend. In recent years, owners have been dealing with more claims and settlement payments related to cases of wage theft. And a memo from Commissioner Bud’s office to all 30 major league teams last September called improper pay practices endemic to ”our industry.”
Like I always say, rich people didn’t get all that money by giving it up easy!
But it’s a good thing we build stadiums like cathedrals for these guys and throw in millions in tax breaks to boot, because what would we do without them?!
Well, maybe we’d have more decent jobs and bosses.
And baseball games that lasted only two-and-a-half hours.
Editor’s Note: Chris‘ last post for The Third City was Two Jagoffs Walk Into a Bar…
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I don’t know about you but I have a problem with FedEx.
The only time I’ve ever discovered that FedEx has delivered a package to me is when I happen to espy it or stumble across it lying on my front porch. I have no idea how long it’s been there—an hour, a day, longer? I have no idea because the FedEx courier never bothered to alert me to the fact that he was leaving a package for me.
Why did he not bother? I’ve often wondered and I recently discovered why.
FedEx has been “trying” to deliver a package to me for several days now. I know this because a FedEx Door Tag relaying this information has twice been left stuck to my door. The package cannot be released unto me (or dumped on my porch) because it needs a signature.
Their first attempt at delivery was on a Saturday and I was not at home. The info on the tag stated that a second attempt would be made on Tuesday. That Tuesday I hung around all day. I checked my doorbell to make sure it was working. I knocked on the door to make sure it had a good resonance. All was in fine fettle. During the course of the day I even made many a trip to my front door and looked out the window to check out any possible delivery activity. There was none. During one of my trips to the front door window I espied the second damn Door Tag.
Curses! Foiled by FedEx again.
FedEx wants to suck my blood…
Pissed, I contacted FedEx via their website’s Chat Room (a phone call to their 800 number, as should have been expected, produced a long wait). It was there that I learned that FedEx couriers were “not required to ring doorbells”. I followed up this surprising statement in the only way one could follow up. I asked (by typing) that if a package needed to be signed for, shouldn’t the courier do his best to make his presence be known? Ringing a bell, knocking on a door, stomping one’s feet were a few methods I suggested. Clearing one’s throat just won’t cut it.
I received no response so I assumed the “chat” had come to an end.
I’m becoming a bit obsessed with the FedEx philosophy. I find myself wondering if FedEx couriers are trained in a type of Tao of Vampire. Vampires, as we all know, cannot enter a room or building unless they are invited. Do FedEx couriers silently stand on the porch, doorstep or foyer waiting to be acknowledged and, therefore, invited to hand over your parcel?
Now that I think of it, I have never seen a FedEx courier arrive or leave my house. I’ve never caught sight of their truck arriving or driving away. The package is just discovered lying there on my porch…as if dropped by a bat.
Hmmm. This latest Door Tag stated that they will attempt another delivery today. I think I might just keep a bulb of garlic in my pocket. Y’know, just in case.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Dim Sum, Lose Some…
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I never pledged in college.
At my alma mater, a southern HBCU, the major Black Greek organizations were in full reign. Back then, hazing wasn’t a word, and pledgees did unspeakably nasty things in the name of everlasting brother/sisterhood.
I know this because I lived with two women who pledged the nation’s oldest Black sorority. The three months that we shared an apartment were hell.
They never cleaned up behind themselves in our apartment’s communal kitchen or bathroom. They did no housework. They came in at weird hours and often smelled like cow shit (our campus had its own dairy cows owing to its agricultural roots).
The deeper they got into pledging, the more polarized we became. Talk about “us” vs. “them”—it was as though my roomie and I had inexplicably become part of some monolithic enemy that only the pledgees were privileged to know.
I couldn’t wait ‘til those (insert your favorite insult here) went over and moved the fuck out.
And as for me, I dismissed pledging as something only people with an unnatural need to belong did.
It was like living with a cow in the house!
Fast forward some many years later.
A new job—the most physical I’ve ever done—required a month of training and 180 days of probation.
That is equal to four thousand three hundred twenty hours, or two hundred fifty-one thousand two hundred seconds of choking back responses to asshole comments, getting pounded by colleagues with sticks the size of new hires up their asses, and generally being the doormats everyone wiped their feet on.
Sounds a lot like being a pledgee.
Six months is a long time to watch your “Ps” and “Qs.” Not everyone is cut out for it.
If you tend to mouth off, anger quickly, party hard and oversleep, you won’t make it. If you whine, voice your unsolicited opinion about a work assignment, or drive like a dervish, it’s likely you won’t make it.
If everything negative that happens around you is someone’s else’s fault, or a supervisor is “picking on you,” it’s a sure bet that instead of going over, you’ll be walked off.
Being a female brought its own baggage. There is the (mostly) unspoken opinion that the work isn’t for women. And depending upon your work assignment, you were likely to get pounded as a way of “making you tough.”
These guys were in Cee’s face — like Louis Gossett!
There were a few princes along the journey.
Like the one who made it his mission to give me the toughest assignments every day to “make you strong.”
Or the one who proclaimed that having to load 5,000 pounds of mail every day would help me decide quickly if this was the job for me, the proceeded to assign me to do just that.
Then there was the prince of princes who interrogated me, berated me and then promised I wouldn’t last through probation if I didn’t get my shit together because I exercised judgment that followed what I’d been taught in the field.
Through it all, though, I kept my mouth smiling and my eye on the prize: getting off probation.
The last day of probation was as close to “going over” as I’ll ever get.
The next day, my walk acquired a bit of swagger. The tasks I’d approached with trepidation only months earlier now gave me comfort in their familiarity. And the princes? Well, we all have to pee and shit, right?
But the coolest part was, and remains, the sense of belonging to something bigger.
We may not know each other, but we acknowledge each other in passing. If something you’re doing would be easier/faster/safer with another set of hands, most times someone is there with a pair to lend.
This experience has given me some insight to the thing that makes pledging—and to a lesser degree, gang membership—appealing. The comaraderie (I’m assuming this exists among gangsters, too) is something that can’t be ignored.
As we look for ways to dissuade young kids from violent associations, it is imperative to remember there’s something quietly empowering about walking along and being acknowledged as a member of “the club.”
Unspoken or not, we all want to belong to something
Sure, team sports offers opportunities to belong, bond, boast. But we need to be more creative and find ways to replicate those feelings along with imparting a way to make a decent living wage.
There are brilliant minds out there coming up with all sorts of ways to make individual fortunes. This is a challenge to put that creativity to work developing ideas to raise and develop collective fortunes… so we can all experience the thrill of “going over.”
Editor’s Note: Cee‘s last post for The Third City was This is War!
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